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How Choreography Is Transmitted


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#1 Helene

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 08:23 PM

How choreography is transmitted is one of the questions that is asked over and over in post- and pre-performance Q&A's that I've attended.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal on Merce Cunningham's decision to leave his works to a trust and disband his company after a farewell tour after his death, Terry Teachout gives a clear analogy about how choreography is transmitted and why it changes over time, when there's no deliberate attempt to do so:

You can write down a piano concerto, but you can’t write down a ballet. Dance notation is so complex and inexact that no choreographer has ever used it to create a new piece from scratch. In fact, most choreographers and dancers don’t even know how to read dance notation, much less write it. Instead of sitting at a desk and writing down the steps of a new dance, a choreographer makes them up on the spot in a studio and personally teaches them to his dancers, who then perform them from memory on stage.

No other art form works this way. Imagine that instead of writing down his Fifth Symphony, Beethoven had taught it to the members of the Vienna Philharmonic by playing it on the piano over and over again until each musician knew his own part by heart. Now suppose that the Philharmonic liked the Fifth Symphony so much that it continued to perform the piece for the next two centuries, with each succeeding generation of players learning the score by rote from its predecessors. Ask yourself this: What would Beethoven’s Fifth sound like today? Would it still sound the same way it did in 1808, or would it have undergone dramatic changes in the process of being transmitted by ear from musician to musician? Or might it have been forgotten altogether?


http://online.wsj.co...3609302846.html

#2 JerryS

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 02:32 PM

Interesting.

However, with the advent of videotaping, perhaps the things will improve.

#3 Helene

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 03:11 PM

Nearly every ballet stager I've heard speak has said that video is at best a memory aid. Francia Russell once said she had to do an unofficial intervention when a Chinese company took a tape of a Balanchine performance and did an unauthorized staging from it, and the result was just so wrong. Although individual stagers can pass on incorrect steps, emphasis, and details, once something is on videotape, it's like a photograph, etched in stone, warts and all.

The tapes I think will be most valuable are the Balanchine Foundation-sponsored ones where roles' creators coach current dancers. It's not so much the steps that are important but the explanations and stories, the "This is what Balanchine told us here; this is what Balanchine wanted it there; this is the gesture or metaphor Balanchine used", as well as any adjustments they might make for today's dancers. At one generation removed (from Volkova), the tape on YouTube of Sibley and Dowell coaching the "Swan Lake" mime to Lauren Cuthbertson and Rupert Pennefather is a similar gem, as are Verdy coaching anything.

Sibley and Dowell and mime

I wrote on another thread that in the movie "Ballerina", I was fascinated by the coaches, particularly how Obratzova's coach took a small detail, the way EO was jumping into a step (incorrectly), and corrected the more athletic approach to the proper style.

#4 JerryS

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 03:30 PM

the tape on YouTube of Sibley and Dowell coaching the "Swan Lake" mime to Lauren Cuthbertson and Rupert Pennefather is a similar gem, as are Verdy coaching anything.

Sibley and Dowell and mime


Thanks for pointing it to us.
Definitely a gem.
BTW, would you know what poem are they using in relation to "Swan Lake?"

#5 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 04:48 PM

Poem? :P

#6 JerryS

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 04:49 PM

Poem?

I think the older dancers are reciting something, from time to time, don't they?

#7 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 05:12 PM

not a poem, though i can understand the question, just that they're giving the words that the gestures represent.

#8 JerryS

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 05:55 AM

not a poem, though i can understand the question, just that they're giving the words that the gestures represent.


Fine, if that's just their own words. I just had the feeling that somehow they were reciting something at times.

#9 Ray

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 10:18 AM

not a poem, though i can understand the question, just that they're giving the words that the gestures represent.


Fine, if that's just their own words. I just had the feeling that somehow they were reciting something at times.



"I'm the Swan Queen, don't come near me..."? :yahoo:

Reminds me of watching an unnamed someone coach a Giselle in rehearsal. His first language was not English: "He wants to kiss her but ... she won't let him"--he never paused between the words "her" and "but," and always paused after "but" (to show a gesture).

#10 carbro

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 10:46 AM

[T]he tape on YouTube of Sibley and Dowell coaching the "Swan Lake" mime to Lauren Cuthbertson and Rupert Pennefather is a similar gem, ....
Sibley and Dowell and mime

I can't help but sense that for such veterans as Sibley and Dowell, the communication originates as movement and then, while teaching the younger dancers, they translate it into words. On the other hand, for Cuthbertson and Pennefather, the words will be in their heads at least for a while. It would seem that, much as listening to someone who translates conversation from their native language to a learned one, there's something lost in the process. Or, to put it another way, we feel the mime with more immediacy after more experienced dancers have discarded the verbal cues.

#11 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 11:28 AM

"He wants to kiss her but ... she won't let him"--he never paused between the words "her" and "but," and always paused after "but" (to show a gesture).

:yahoo:

#12 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 02:03 PM

but the teacher first has to teach the frame of it and the student/dancer has to learn that and give the music its proper "contents" before they can begin to discard the skeleton, as it were, because they understand the flesh so well.


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